In January 2018 we put together a trip to climb the NE ridge route on Incahuasi. Climbers were Chuck Huss, Mark Cole and myself, Dan Smith. We were accompanied by Anibal Maturano who provided transportation and logistic support for our team. Anibal guides small groups and he can be contacted thru his facebook page.
One of my teammates and myself had previously traveled in the Las Grutas region in Feb 2013 when we climbed Cazadero (Walter Penck) and we were excited to get back and visit the Las Grutas area again. We checked in at the Las Grutas border post and then and moved into the hut facilities to the west of the post. The Las Grutas ‘hut’ is a medium sized building staffed with a couple of personnel. The steel building is sort of a maintenance facility for the border crossing. The sleeping areas can accommodate approximately 12-15 people in group bunk bed areas. There is a large kitchen/eating area where you can prepare your own food. They have two large 4 burner stoves with a propane tank, a sink and a few pots. Potable water is available outside in a portable tank. Toilets and hot showers are also available.
The border post was quite busy with many local tourists (on a Thursday) checking in for their travels between Argentina and Chile. We felt that the number of people had increased quite a bit from our travels in 2013. Also the prices for staying at the hut increased, in 2013 we paid $8 US per person per night and now the cost was $27 US per person/per night.
After settling in at Las Grutas we spent the next few days hiking to the nearby peaks of Bertran and Falso Morocho for acclimatization. Our outfitter Anibal indicated he had attempted the North Ridge on Incahuasi and he was of the opinion that the NE Ridge route is now the more favored route. The less hospitable North Ridge has more wind exposure, few decent campsites, and less potential for water sources (snow, ice, running water). During our acclimatization days we experienced afternoon thunder storms each day which laid down quite a bit of new snow at elevations above 14700 ft/4500 m. Much of the lower snow would melt during the warm temperatures the following day.
On Sun 1/14 we drove out to the base of Incahuasi on the 4x4 dirt road. The road is 11 mi / 18 km long and does require a high clearance 4x4 vehicle. The drive is not extreme and follows a well-defined vehicle track. It ends at about 14,800 ft / 4511 m. After the 11 miles there was evidence of other vehicles proceeding beyond that point but it requires a more aggressive off road vehicle due to the steeper and rough terrain along with soft sand. There was not any evidence of archeologists camped in the area, probably long since having gathered their data and moved on to other sites. Base camp sites are available in the area. No snow or water was available despite the recent snows. We proceeded to pack our gear and begin the climb to camp 1. Camp 1 was unlikely to have water so we carried extra water up to the camp. Along the upper portion of the hike we were able to find existing climber trails and follow them to the camp location. We placed our camp 1 behind the volcanic cinder cones in a very nice flat spot with lots of room and it was at an elevation of 16479 ft / 5020 m. About 1.6 mi / 2.6 km from the end of the road. No snow of water was available at this camp.
Monday 1/15 we proceeded to camp 2. Again an existing climber trail was easy to follow to the camp location. Due to higher winds that we were experiencing we elected to place our camp 2 at 18,200 ft / 5547 m approx. 400 ft / 120 m below the Col for better wind protection. We were fortunate and had recent snow piles to provide water for that camp. Normally the camp is placed at the Col. It seems that the normal camp 2 is usually placed at the southwest end (far side) of the Col where there is likely to be more permanent snow patches. While waiting for dinner to cook, Anibal appeared at our tent door, having descended from summit. Seems he felt strong and decided to go for the summit from base camp. He had climbed a new ridge route between the NE ridge and the North ridge, proceeded to the summit then descended the NE ridge route back to base camp. All in about 9 hours in some pretty windy conditions! Only a few single day climbs of the mountain have been done before.
On Tuesday 1/16 we went for the summit ourselves. The route from the Col proceeds up a steep west facing broad gully. There is a bit of a sandy/loose gravel climber track that heads up the left side of the gully. This was the worst part of the climb. One step up, half a step back. At the top of the gully we encountered approximately 100 meters of snow which was soft enough to kick in good foot holds. If this was harder snow or ice you could probably climb to the right on rock and get around that section. At the top of the snow was the beginning of the broad summit plateau. The beginning of the summit plateau is at 20500 ft / 6248 m. This is where we encountered snow from the recent storms. The depth of the snow was only 2” – 4” / 5-10 cm with a few places a bit deeper where the snow had drifted. We encountered 20-35 mph winds at this point. The peak was free of clouds and is was easy to navigate with line of sight to the summit peak (black pointy peak) on the right edge of the skyline. It’s about 1 mi / .6 km across the plateau to the summit. We summited about 2:30 pm and were back in camp 2 about 6:00 pm. When we got back to our high camp just about all the remaining snow patches had melted. A quick descent to base camp the next day and a drive back to Las Grutas and hot showers.
On our drive back to Fiambala the next day we stopped along the road approximately 11 mi / 18 km from Las Grutas and climbed Co. Morocho.